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    Inbox: Defined

    Sunday, December 12th, 2010 at 10:46 AM | Productivity, Simplification

    You most likey use an inbox (physical, digital etc).  So here are some tips on getting the most from your inboxes.

    What an Inbox is not:

    A storage spot – Your inbox is not a storage spot. It’s not called a Stay-box. It’s not meant to store things for any longer than absolutely necessary. If you have items in your inbox that are older than a few days, either you are really behind, or you are using your inbox as storage. Shame on you!

    A contact database – Your inbox isn’t meant to keep track of all your contacts. Use an address book for this. If you find yourself keeping messages in your inbox because you don’t want to loose someone’s email or phone number, don’t. Save it in an actual contact database and archive the message.

    A to do list – Nope, your inbox isn’t a to do list either. There are better ways to make a to do list from your inbox items which we will touch on later. Read how to get your inbox to empty….coming soon.

    What an Inbox is
    An in-box is a place to temporarily hold unprocessed items. Once an item is viewed, it can no longer remain in the in-box, it must be processed. An inbox should be processed a few times a day or less depending on your position and the time sensitivity of your tasks. An inbox should be empty after you process it.

    Don’t worry, it this seems like a scary task, it’s not. As a reformed crazy inbox keeper, I know how to get you from thousands of messages to zero.

    Limit your Inboxes
    It’s crucial that you have as few inboxes as possible. Ideally one. For example I have one email inbox and one physical inbox (for mail etc). The more inboxes you have, the greater the chance that you will neglect one, or not process it to empty. Try and consolidate all your incoming information into one or two inboxes.

    Physical mail/inbox
    Remember, this is one inbox period, not one per location. So any mail you get at home needs to make it to your inbox (and remain unprocessed until it gets there). A good way of doing this is to have a holding spot, that all items meant for work go. Once you pair down your inboxes it will make processing them much easier. Going paperless can also help in reducing your incoming stream of items.

    Electronic Inboxes (non-email)
    Do you have other locations that require being “checked”. It might be facebook, online banking statements, or just another website that you have to check and deal with on a regular basis. This is just one more “inbox”. If possible eliminate it. If it’s something that you can’t do without, see if there is a way to have these items emailed to your main inbox or send you a tickler/reminder every so often. This way they will get processed with the rest of your items.

    Email Inboxes
    The reality these days is that a lot of people have multiple email accounts. And with this comes the burden of multiple places to check, process, store and reply to your messages. Unless you work for the government or another high security employer, chances are you can centralize all your email inboxes. Nearly all email providers either give you the ability to forward or check other email accounts. Aim to have all your email come into one inbox. However, make sure to setup your sent mail settings (SMTP) also. You want to make sure when you reply to a work email it doesn’t have a REPLY to address of your personal account. When you reply you will select which “account” you are replying with and your signature should be set to automatically show up. No one will ever know you are using gmail or yahoo for your work email.

    TIP: If you are one of those workers who like to keep things separate, good for you! In this case, try setting up a filter and new folder/label, so that all of your “work” messages end up in a special work folder. You can setup a sub-folder of your inbox called “work” or something else. This way you don’t have to mingle work/personal, but you still have it all under one email account.

    Voice messages are just another inbox to check and process. If your office doesn’t already use VOIP (voice over IP) that doesn’t stop you from getting your voice messages emailed to you. Imagine having your voicemails sent to your inbox, just like every other item you need to process. There are many reasons this is a great way to do things, but the main one is consolidation. If you aren’t familiar with VOIP yet, ask your IT department.

    Google Voice
    is a free option that can centralize your voicemail boxes. Just set your phone to forward all no-answer calls to Google Voice and have your voicemails transcribed and emailed to you. You can even setup custom greetings and actions per caller ID, caller groups and much more.

    Now that we have that settled, learn how to process your (fewer) inboxes so that they are all empty. Check back for my post on getting your them to empty!

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